Makers & Fakers


“Did you build that?” is the most common question I get about Row Bird. As many times as I’ve heard it, I’m never quite sure how to respond.

When I’m in a rush I say yes and if they’re not sailors, the conversation often ends right there. The asker stands nearby, strokes the gunwale’s smooth varnish, smiles sheepishly, and soon wanders off. 

If I’m in a good mood, I give them the full tale of how I met Andy Boat out on the Salish Sea and the subsequent series of serendipitous meetings of people who helped put the whole thing together.

Sometimes the question just rankles me and I contemplate lying. I might reply, “Oh, I won it at my kid’s school auction.” If I’m feeling more flippant I jest, “It came in a box of breakfast cereal.”

No matter the response I give, I know that more often than not, the inquiry isn’t about construction, it’s a way of saying, “that’s unusual. I really like your boat, let’s talk.” painting

But for those people who are genuinely interested in boat building, I feel the most awkward. Sure, I had a hand in the refinement of a design that someone else created. I did the painting and varnishing and some finish work, but Andy Boat did the carpentry that makes up most of the actual boat. Andy Bike led the sail making efforts. I hammered in grommets, cut sailcloth and canvas, worked out the rigging, and sewed anything with crooked stitching.

In the end, I find it strange to take any sort of credit for something that isn’t entirely mine. While I feel proud of the boat, I also feel a bit like a faker. I readily admit that I’m not a boat builder, but the more I answer questions about it, the more I confident I get. Though, let’s face it, the confidence has nothing to do with experience.

But if I want to answer honestly, what do I say? Who made the boat? Was it a collaboration? Does the biggest builder take all? What would you say?


  1. You’ve told me before that you don’t have the skills to build a boat, which I have always doubted.
    I’ve found that someone who shows interest in my boat usually wants to tell me about theirs. Met most of my peeps that way.

  2. Tell it as it is, you played an important part in the build, not to mention the maintenance, adjustments and all the other things we do to keep our boats sailing and ship shape.

  3. As much as I like the cereal box idea, there are two ways to look at this, and only one way to remedy it.

    1. In the Corporate World of Ladder Climbing, you will look the next person in the eye and say: “Damn straight I built this boat. Out of scratch, alone, with no help from anyone or society.” A pointed finger to the chest sends it home. Promptly bask in the accolades and sell boat to the questioner at a highly inflated price and then find someone else to throw under a bus. Guilt levels may vary and are closely tied to sleeping ability.

    2. In the boatbuilding-as-a-hobby crowd, you did not build it, but managed the team and participated extensively. You all collaborated and then drank libations together, and now you have a cool boat and warm memories. Many boatbuilders nod at this creation story lost in their own memories.

    Regardless, it is obvious to me that you have acute “Lack of Boatbuilding Regression” and you are asking for help to chart a course to health and confidence at the boat ramp! It is clear from your behavior, the slight feelings of guilt, the budding ownership, and a subtle deep seated need to call a boat your own. Since you stay honest and won’t claim her for your own, you chafe because you have reached the point where it is now That Time. (The comment about who designed the boat is really just a distraction from the larger issue. Designers draw boats so people will actually construct them. No designer will say he built a boat, they’ll say they designed it.)

    The edge is nigh and there is no reason to not step over and plunge into the exhilarating despair of boatbuilding. You know you should have done this long ago. You see it in the mirror, you feel it when someone asks, “did you build that boat?” However, you foil and convince yourself otherwise, and your retreat from owning the solution.

    The winter is here and the days are shorter. A dram or two and it’s time to start thinking that damned question that haunts us all, “what, what, will be the next boat that I build?”


  4. Whether you built it or not, you do use the heck out of it. A feat of equal or greater importance. Having read quite enough blogs and forum posts, there are plenty of boatbuilders out there that rarely put their creations in the water. It’s just weird furniture at that point. Fret not.

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